My way or the Broadway

Cayman Arts Festival 2010 kicked off on Friday 5 February with Broadway Comes to Cayman. Joe Shooman was there to soak up the feast of talent and reports.

The event paired vocalist Kim Criswell with pianist Wayne Marshall, a duo who have taken the stage together on many occasions.
Criswell, a New Yorker now living in London, was a featured soloist in the BBC Proms 2009’s celebration of Classic MGM Film Musicals. Before the concert, she told the Journal that Marshall was a massive talent.
“I’ve watched a lot of world class orchestras scramble to keep up with him – he’s that good.  He’s very musical, can play anything in any key (almost without thinking about it), and is absolutely fearless.”
“His performances, whether with me or any of his other collaborators, are guaranteed to be electric – no chance of anything being dull. If he was a car, he’d be a Maserati sports car, pushing the speed limit. We always have a great time performing together, and on top of all that, he makes me laugh.”

The first concert of the festival was, however, attended rather more sparsely than expected. The empty stalls of the under-capacity First Baptist Church spoke of other commitments during a busy weekend on Grand Cayman, but those who were there were treated to an evening of songs culled from Broadway shows, mostly from between 1920s and 1950s, and all by Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein.
As the set unfolded, it became clear that this wasn’t just going to be a re-hash of the same old tired numbers. There were surprises dotted throughout the set, Criswell’s soaring, expressive vocals inquisitive, coquettish, hard, demanding, rueful and lively as and when each song demanded.
As a performer, she certainly showed her experience and talent for musical theatre from the off, with three Bernstein numbers – Dream With Me, Something’s Coming and Tonight – getting the audience warmed up for what was to follow.

Weill’s That’s Him segued into ruminations on Paris (or, as Cole Porter would put it, “Paree”), from the musical 50 Million Frenchmen. Gershwin’s bluesy, wistful The Man I Love featured a rousing crescendo toward a blastful climax.
Wayne Marshall then stepped forward, and after a short waffle about the weather in Italy, sat back down behind the piano for a solo improvisation that was skilfully weaved round themes from Porgy and Bess.
For several minutes, Marshall lost himself in a whirl of ideas, meshing together jazzy chords with sweet melodic figures, juxtaposed aggressive bass runs with clusters of tweeting sevenths and ninths, and generally showed off in the manner of a piano version of Yngwie Malmsteen. It was breathtaking, indulgently great stuff and Criswell clapped as loudly as anyone.

I Can Cook, Too brought poignancy to matters, before a woozy jazz version of A Foggy Day held the attention of the by-now rapt audience. Love For Sale, perhaps Cole Porter’s most raw moment, was given a sympathetic rendition but the interval was reached on a much sillier, upbeat note with the Aria of Island Magic, from Bernstein’s patchy musical Trouble in Tahiti. It was one of Criswell’s best characterisations of the evening.
After the break, the duo launched straight into Give Him The Oo-La-La, a Cole Porter number most famously sung by Ethel Merman in the 1939 musical, DuBarry Was A Lady. Criswell’s explanations of where the songs were from were welcome and added a layer of cultural and human understanding to pieces written several generations ago.
But the emotions remain universal and can be intensely powerful; music, at its finest, can create an enhancement or a transformation of mood for performer and concert-goer. The art lies in the alchemic blurring of roles on and off-stage and there were times when Wayne Marshall’s second solo improvisation flirted with that concept. This time, it was West Side Story given the Marshall treatment.

As Criswell said, the audience were familiar with many of the tracks from films, recordings or jazz clubs even if they weren’t aware that the songs were originally written for Broadway shows.  
“I always try to link the songs together in ways that will help the audience hear them with new ears -sometimes knowing the background of a song can completely change the way it affects you.  We always try to make a good mix of love songs, comedy songs, and songs about life and the human condition that will make you think,” she said.
The final few songs challenged the audience, whose emotions had been opened up along the way. The powerful Lost In The Stars was intense and moving, from Kurt Weill’s score based on Cry, The Beloved Country. But the downbeat darkness was soon assuaged by the beautiful hope of Bernstein’s gorgeous Somewhere.
There was just time to weave in some Chopin to So In Love/Were Thine That Special Face, two Cole Porter numbers, and an encore of Infinite Joy that the pair had not tackled before onstage.
All told, Broadway Comes to Cayman offered a great mix of familiar tunes and challenging moments during an opening night that eased people into the festival niftily.


Kim Criswell
Stephen Clarke